Are you being helpful — or hurtful?

Sometimes our friends and colleagues ask us for feedback. Other times we think our feedback will help them see a blind spot that we think they should know.

But no matter if the input is asked for or not, we’re never quite sure how it will be received.

I recently spent multiple days with a good pal while traveling. We get along very well and enjoy each other’s company. So when she told me I needed to get new walking shoes to be more fashionable, and that my casual travel pants were too short, and the gray in my part was showing, I knew she was wanting to be helpful. I knew all of these things, but choose to not “fix” them immediately for viable reasons. I knew she wasn’t being mean, but instead had my best interest at heart.

So on the last day of our trip, when I made my first suggestion to her about something it seemed she wasn’t aware yet caused her much strife, she didn’t receive it as I imagined. She said that she already knew this behavior was a problem so my comment wasn’t helpful but instead was rubbing salt in the wound.

I was taken aback, as I thought we were in “you might not be aware of this, so I thought you should know” mode. I took her observations as her wanting to be helpful, and found it odd that she didn’t take my input the same.

Others take even blunt feedback in stride. Recently, I was asked by someone to give him brutally honest feedback, which I did. I didn’t hear from him for a month, so thought I must have offended him. But when I did hear back, he was appreciative of my straightforward observations.

One never really knows how one’s feedback will be taken. I think it wisest to start out gently and gauge the reaction. Only if the message doesn’t seem to be getting through, should you escalate and be more blunt. However, just as your word choice makes a difference so does your voice tone. Ensure your voice communicates your caring as well as your words.

Feedback is critical to improvement. Just make sure you are giving it in a way it can be received.